England’s highest performing comprehensive schools and academies are significantly more socially selective than the average state school nationally and other schools in their own localities, according to a new report by the Sutton Trust today.

The average rate of free school meal (FSM) eligibility and uptake at the top 500 comprehensives – all have more than 69% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs in 2012 – is just below half the national average figure, 7.6% compared to 16.5%, and 15.2% in their respective local authorities. There are nearly 3,000 comprehensive schools nationally. FSM is a measure of the overall social selectivity of a school.

95 per cent of the top 500 comprehensives have a smaller proportion of their pupils on free school meals than their local areas, including almost two thirds (64%) which are unrepresentative of their local authority area, with gaps of five or more percentage points.

The analysis found 49 schools within the top 500 with a higher proportion of pupils on free school meals than the national average, though only 25 exceeded their local average. Case studies included with this release show schools that have achieved high results with significant numbers of disadvantaged pupils on their rolls.

When schools are ranked on the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) measure, the top 500 is even more socially exclusive – only 7.2% of pupils in this top 500 are eligible for free school meals.

The report also shows that there is a big difference in the social background of pupils attending good schools that have converted to academy status (‘converter academies’) and those academies that have been established with sponsors to improve results (‘sponsored academies’). The 186 converter academies within the top 500 have significantly lower FSM intakes, averaging just 5.8%.

Schools in the top 500 are also more likely to be faith schools or single sex schools than the national average.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said today: “Who gets admitted to these schools matters because they are the ones most likely to attend the best universities and most likely to succeed in the top professions. They open the door to social mobility. The schools in this study, by and large, are not using forms of overt selection. But they are exercising a form of social selection.

“The most successful schools in England come in three guises. There are world-class independent schools for the small minority of 7% who can afford their fees. There are still 164 selective grammar schools in some parts of the country. And there are a group of comprehensives with non-selective admissions policies, but which are socially selective because of the neighbourhoods or faith communities they serve.

“The bottom line is, how good a school you go to depends on your parents’ income. We have one of the most socially segregated school systems in the developed world, an outlier with only 4 out of 29 advanced countries having a worse record, according to the OECD last year.

“That is why the Sutton Trust believes that schools, particularly in urban areas, should use a system of ballots – where a proportion of places is allocated randomly – or banding across the range of abilities to achieve a genuinely balanced intake. Lower income students do better when there is a mix of students of all backgrounds in a school. At the same time, independent day schools should be opened up by a state funded system of open access, and grammar schools by a combination of outreach and fairer admissions.”

In the Sutton Trust study:

  • 75% of the top 500 comprehensives control their own admissions policies, compared with 61% of non-academically selective schools nationally.
  • 24% of the top 500 are voluntary aided schools – usually Church of England or Catholic – compared with 14% of all non-academically selective schools.
  • 37% are converter academies, compared with 23% nationally when the sample was compiled.
  • 13% of pupils at the 24 sponsored academies in the top 500 are eligible for free school meals – a higher proportion than among local authority controlled schools in the sample – though this is smaller than the 22% FSM take-up across all sponsored academies.
  • Top 500 schools are also less likely to be co-educational: single-sex schools account for 11% of comprehensive schools nationally and make up 16% of the top 500.
  1. The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 120 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to Access to the Professions.
  2. Selective Comprehensives is available at https://www.suttontrust.com/researcharchive/selective-comprehensives/. The key findings are based on an analysis of the 500 non-selective state-funded schools (including academies) with the highest proportion of students gaining five A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths, in 2012. Schools had a minimum of 69% on this measure. Where schools had just reached 69% inclusion was included on an alphabetical basis until the 500 figure was reached. The report only covers schools with a comprehensive admissions policy, although some may have a degree of partial selection by aptitude or ability.
  3. Earlier studies by the Sutton Trust in 2005 and 2006 have looked at the top 200 comprehensives. In 2006, 5.6% of pupils at the top 200 schools were eligible for FSM, compared with 14.3% of all pupils. In 2012, 6.4% of pupils at the top 200 schools were eligible for FSM, compared with 16.5% of all pupils.

Here are three secondary schools that have high numbers of Free School Meals pupils and are in the top 500 schools nationally. In all three schools, a majority of FSM pupils achieve five good GCSEs, including English and Maths.

Chesterton Community Sports College, Staffordshire

Chesterton Community Sports College in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, has 22.1% of its pupils taking Free School Meals (FSM), compared with the Local Authority average of 9.8%.

In 2012, 72% of its pupils achieved 5A*-C grades at GCSE, including English and Maths, well above a national and Staffordshire average of 59%. 63% of FSM pupils reached this GCSE standard.

The community school is a relatively small mixed secondary, with just over 500 students on the roll, and it was rated ‘good, with outstanding features’ by Ofsted in its last report in 2010. Chesterton has been praised for improvements in results in recent years and also benefits good sports facilities, including a swimming pool and a dance studio.

The executive Headteacher, Mrs Lynn Jackson, believes that the school’s good results are “due to the whole staff commitment in aiming for the highest standards possible from each and every pupil.” She concludes, “Our personalised curriculum ensures that we meet the requirements of all ages and abilities.”

St Thomas More Catholic School, Haringey

St Thomas More Catholic School in Wood Green, North London, has shown a dramatic improvement in results in recent years and is now achieving good results for all its pupils.

With 43% of pupils eligible for free school meals, the 728-student, mixed, voluntary-aided school, which has recently converted to academy status, has seen significant improvements in results in recent years with the proportion achieving five good GCSEs, including English and Maths, rising from 31% in 2010 – when the school had was just rated ‘satisfactory’ by Ofsted – to 77% in 2012. This is significantly higher than the national and Haringey average of 59%.

Pupils of all abilities do well in English and Maths, and 74% of the school’s FSM pupils reach the five GCSE standard. Headteacher, Mr Martin Tissot, says:  “I believe the improvement in results is a reflection of a new collective effort since my appointment in 2010 to put in place a strong disciplinary and pastoral system to counteract some poor pupil behaviour.  The Governors were keen to ensure that pupil discipline was accorded the highest priority, because a well-disciplined school is the bedrock upon which educational success is built.”

Mr Tissot notes that improvements in teaching and better monitoring of pupil progress were crucial: “Tailored support was provided for those pupils who were falling short of reaching their progress targets.  Capability procedures were instituted swiftly and effectively for those teachers unable or unwilling to make the improvements necessary.”

Platanos College, Stockwell, London

Platanos College in Stockwell, South London, is an 11-16 mixed converter Academy rated outstanding by Ofsted that achieves good results for all its pupils.

Although 59% of its 988 pupils are eligible for free school meals, a remarkable 80% achieve five good GCSEs in English and Maths; the proportion rose from 68% in 2011. 77% of FSM pupils reached this standard in 2012. In the London Borough of Lambeth as a whole, where Platanos is located, 32% of pupils receive free school meals and 63% of all pupils achieve five good GCSEs.

Platanos uses a banding system to try to achieve a balanced intake. Three ability bands are determined by the results of Cognitive Ability Tests and the school admits around 20% of pupils from the top ability band, 60% of pupils from the middle band, and 20% of pupils from the lower band.

The school has a “Grammar pathways” programme aimed at all pupils who show academic ability and are developing skills as independent learners. Students enrolled in to the Grammar School Pathway are expected to achieve high academic success, as well as become well-rounded, cultured individuals with a high level of social skills. The ethos is based on the celebration of excellence in a caring, supportive environment which encourages pupils to achieve beyond their expectations.

The headteacher, Miss Judette Tapper, said:  “We simply continue to work with pupils regardless of where they start.  We have an unshakeable belief in our pupils.  Our simple yet effective systems have to be refined each year.  The sharp focus on Learning and Teaching as well as data tracking builds on this unshakeable belief in our pupils.”

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